Labor Actions FAQ

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What is a strike?

A strike is an organized and collective work stoppage by a group of employees, usually with the goal of forcing the employer to accept the employees’ demands, or in protest of an alleged unfair labor practice. A union might call a strike to put pressure on the employer to accept the union’s demands on wages, benefits, or other terms and conditions of employment. The striking employees might organize picket lines in front of their work areas (and often elsewhere) where they hold signs, march, and chant.

Since a strike is about withholding labor, an employee is not formally on strike if they participate in protests or demonstrations but are otherwise performing their work obligations. Additional information from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regarding the right to strike, as well as lawful and unlawful strikes can be found here.

Has a strike been called?

No. The GSU-UE has not called a strike.

Is the union asking other MIT employees to withhold their labor or to avoid crossing the picket line?

No. The union is not asking graduate student workers or any other workers to “withhold their labor at this time.”

Is the GSU-UE allowed to strike?

Yes. Since the Institute and the GSU-UE do not yet have a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in place, the GSU-UE may strike at any point prior to reaching the CBA. Whether the union may strike after a CBA is reached depends on whether MIT and the union agree to a “no strike” clause. Most final CBAs include a “no strike” clause which prohibits the unit members from engaging in a strike during the life of the CBA.

How would the GSU-UE initiate a strike?

Under the UE’s constitution, the union would first hold a strike authorization vote. This is a vote of the union members on whether to allow the union’s local leadership or bargaining team to call a strike. Importantly, only those bargaining unit members who have formally joined the GSU-UE (e.g., by signing membership cards and following other membership rules set by the union) would have an opportunity to vote on strike authorization; bargaining unit members who have not affirmatively joined the GSU-UE would not be eligible to vote.

If a strike is authorized, the local union leadership has the discretion to call a strike within the parameters approved under the authorization (including any parameters on timing, length, etc.). MIT is not involved in any decision by a union as to whether or when to call a strike.

What discipline or consequences could bargaining unit members face if they go on strike?

Lawful strikes are a protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Members of the bargaining unit engaged in a lawful strike cannot be disciplined or retaliated against for going on strike. However, employers have a legal right to withhold compensation from striking employees. In addition, if a striking employee engages in unlawful conduct during a strike, such as engaging in a work slowdown, they may be disciplined.

Moreover, all students will be expected to meet the requirements of their academic program, regardless of any strike. They will not face any adverse academic consequences from MIT for continuing their academics. Failing to attend classes, otherwise meet course expectations, or make satisfactory progress toward their other degree requirements could have consequences for their academic standing.

If the bargaining unit members go on strike, will MIT be withholding their pay?

MIT will not pay RAs, TAs, or Instructor G’s while they are on strike.

Can a bargaining unit member choose to work instead of strike?

Yes. An individual bargaining unit member has the right under the NLRA not to engage in strike activity and cannot be coerced — either by the union or by the employer — to strike or not to strike. While striking members of the bargaining unit are exercising a protected right under the law, the same is true for unit members who elect not to strike. The decision of whether or not to participate in a strike remains up to each individual bargaining unit member.

What happens if an employee who is not part of the GSU-UE chooses not to work in support of the union?

Non-unionized, non-supervisory staff have the same strike rights as GSU-UE bargaining unit members. They may strike, or not strike, without coercion or retaliation. If they elect to strike, however, their compensation may be withheld. In addition, if they engage in unlawful unprotected strike activity, such as a partial withholding of their labor, they may be subject to discipline.

Other MIT staff who are members of unions that have active collective bargaining agreements with no-strike clauses do not have the right to participate in an MIT GSU-UE strike by not working. They are expected to be at work and fulfilling their job responsibilities.

MIT faculty and other managerial and supervisory employees are not generally covered by the NLRA and do not have a legal right to participate in any GSU-UE strike.

When do strikes occur, and how long do they last?

Strikes can vary in timing and length. It depends on whether progress is being made on finalizing the collective bargaining agreement, what the union membership authorizes, and what the local union leadership elects to do.

Recent strikes called by graduate student unions at peer schools have ranged from a few days to over three months. In many cases, such as at the University of California system, a strike does not end until an agreement is reached. In other cases, such as at Harvard University, a strike may end prior to a contract being reached.

What is a partial strike or a work slowdown? What is an intermittent strike?

A partial strike or work slowdown is an attempt by employees, while remaining at work, to bring economic pressure to force their employer to accept their demands, for example, by slowing down their work or only doing certain tasks. Such actions are illegal and employees who engage in this conduct may face discipline.

An intermittent strike is a situation where one or more employees fully withhold their labor for a period of time, return to work, and then go back to striking. Depending on the circumstances, including, but not limited to, whether an employee’s intermittent strike was consistent with the strike called by the union leadership, such actions may also be considered illegal and may subject individual employees to discipline.

What should faculty and others who supervise or work with graduate students do if a student asks them about the possibility of a strike?

They can:

  • Share with students that while strikes are possible and have occurred at peer institutions, a strike has not yet been authorized by the GSU-UE.
  • Note that MIT’s objective is to continue working in good faith with the union to reach a final CBA as quickly as possible.
  • Refer the student to these FAQs and explain that this website will be updated with further information about the collective bargaining process.
  • State that if a strike occurs, it will be up to each bargaining unit member to decide whether or not they will participate in the strike. The law protects their right to make that decision free from coercion from the union or from MIT. (Faculty and supervisors should go no further than this in such discussions.)

They should not:

  • Inquire about whether the union is planning a strike or whether the student (or other students) is supportive of or would participate in any strike.
  • Threaten any bargaining member because of their possible engagement in lawful striking activity, or coerce any student not to participate in any future strike.
  • Make special promises or inducements in order to encourage students not to participate in any future strike, or to return from/stop striking.